Traveler’s Tales: Hitting the Louvre, Early

Louvre

My daughter at the Louvre

During a trip to Paris over spring break, I realized my family was actually on vacation while I was on an excursion.

We began each morning the same way: me jumping out of bed and raring to go early and them–not interested in catching any tourist worms. I grew so frustrated sitting in the lovely little room reading all the magazines while they slept, that I made them a deal.

“Sleep in as long as you want tomorrow. I’ll be at the Louvre when it opens and will meet you at Winged Victory at noon.”

Deal.

And a great one.

I took the metro and arrived just before opening. I had a Paris Museum Pass (get one!) and entered effortlessly. Flocks of people went through the metal detector at the same time and we scurried down the corridor lined with shops and food courts. Once inside the sunlit area under that glass pyramid, we separated.

They all headed west to see Mona Lisa. I turned east and had the Louvre pretty much to myself.

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For nearly an hour.

Louvre

This is how close you can get. See her?

I cannot stress this enough–everyone’s seen Mona Lisa. You know what she looks like. Today she’s hiding behind glass and a barrier–a small woman hanging on a wall. The hordes crowd around her and you can’t get close enough to see Leonardo’s brush strokes or anything else of worth. All you can do is peek around the shoulders and heads of other people come to worship.

Stop by to pay your respects but buy the print for close scrutiny–the Louvre’s got too many other great things to see and most people have limited time.

Meanwhile, back on the east side of the museum, I rode an escalator and found myself in the Assyrian section. I had just taught a Bible study on Sargon and I could see his mammoth bas relief filling a temple!

Here was the Code of Hammarabi; here were paintings I’d studied in art history casually hanging on a wall and no one was around. I felt like I’d been invited to the Getty manor when J. Paul Getty still lived there and I could savor the art like an owner.

The excitement of seeing these paintings surged and washed over me.

Thank you, France!

The occasional guard nodded at me, but no tourists appeared. I oohed and ahhed and reveled in paintings I’d loved–Rembrants, Holbeins, Van Eycks–to my heart’s content.

Glorious joy filled me–I wanted to skip or dance, but I remained restrained.  Like stories I’d read as a child of young people wandering through the greatest museums of the world alone and free, that was my experience in Louvre on a March morning during spring break.

So go early, but veer to the left and see the world before you pay homage to Her Highness.

I met my family at the Winged Victory promptly at noon–they’d just gotten out of bed. They wanted to see Mona Lisa so we headed west with the rest of the hordes. I plugged in my Ipod and listened to my favorite, Rick Steves. He’s got a free podcast on seeing the Louvre everyone should hear. (Rick Steves’ Paris also includes a hilarious photo of Rick trying to conquer the Louvre in one day: he’s lying collapsed on the floor in the long gallery!)

We spent the day there before traipsing out to Angelina’s across the street for the world’s richest hot chocolate. Everyone was happy: they’d slept in, I’d filled my soul with great art and we ended with chocolate.

Mai oui!

Any tricks you have for visiting art museums, or the Louvre?
Are you an early riser or a late one and how does it affect your tourism?
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